Turkey shoots down Russian Jet
Turkey shoots down Russian jet
Turkey shot down a Russian warplane Tuesday, drawing an angry response from Moscow and prompting an emergency NATO meeting.
The Turkish military said it issued 10 warnings in five minutes before the Su-24 attack aircraft was shot down by two F-16 jets. Russia’s defense ministry denied the plane ever strayed from Syria.
Army Col. Steve Warren, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, confirmed that 10 warnings were issued and that the incident occurred “at the border.” It was not immediately clear what side of the border the shootdown took place, Warren said, adding that the military was examining flight data.
In a related incident, Syrian rebels claimed to have shot down a Russian helicopter searching for the downed pilots, using U.S.-supplied TOW missiles, according to multiple media outlets citing the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. All 10 occupants of the craft evacuated safely, the Observatory’s Rami Abdulrahman told The Guardian.
The plane went down in Bayirbucak, northwestern Syria, near Turkey, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported. Rebels at the scene fatally shot two parachuting pilots, Alpaslan Celik, the second-in-command of a Turkmen rebel force, told multiple media outlets. A Turkish official, however, told Reuters that his government believes the pilots are alive and that authorities were working to secure their release.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the plane posed no threat to Turkey. He called the shoot down “a stab in Russia’s back delivered by terrorist accomplices” that wouldn’t be tolerated.
The incident comes amid tense relations between Ankara, Moscow and the West over the conflict in Syria. Russia and a U.S.-led coalition are bombing targets in the war-ravaged country, although the U.S. has accused Russia of targeting U.S.-backed rebels attempting to topple Syrian President Bashir Assad.
“A probe is in progress into the circumstances of the Russian plane’s crash. The defense ministry says the plane invariably stayed within Syrian airspace. Objective moni
toring data confirm this,” Russia’s defense ministry said, according to Russian news agency TASS.
Turkey’s Dogan news agency said witnesses saw the plane crash over tents in a village and pilots landed with parachutes. Russia’s Interfax agency said the pilots ejected, and what happened to them is under investigation.
A video posted online purports to show armed rebels gathered around a bruised pilot lying on the ground. A voice says, “The 10th Division has captured a Russian pilot, God is greatest.” The allegiances of the group are not clear.
Turkey summoned the Russian ambassador twice in October after Russian fighter planes breached Turkish airspace. At the time, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkish pilots had been instructed to intercept any Russian aircraft that enters Turkey.
The ambassador, Andrei Karlov, was summoned again Friday to protest Russian bombing of Turkmen villages in northern Syria close to the Turkish border. The ambassador was told that ongoing attacks on the villages “could lead to serious consequences,” the foreign ministry said.
Last week, Russia launched extensive attacks on Islamic State targets in Raqqa, the extremist group’s headquarters in Syria, after Russian investigators concluded a homemade bomb brought down a Russian passenger plane in Egypt last month, killing all 224 aboard. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, claimed responsibility.
The U.S. government previously said most Russian strikes targeted moderate rebels, including some backed by the U.S., and that the real purpose of Russia’s recent air campaign in Syria was not to defeat the Islamic State but to prop up Syria’s president.
However, U.S. warplanes and air crews have been helping the Turks protect their airspace from Russian incursion. To back the Turks earlier this month, the U.S. Air Force sent six F-15C fighters to Turkey. Those warplanes are designed to defeat enemy fighter aircraft.
Contributing: Oren Dorell